Freeskier Henrik Harlaut readies for X Games by snowboarding
A two-time XG Big Air gold medalist (2013 and 2014), irrepressible Henrik Harlaut throws some of the most creative tricks in skiing. But in 2015, his quest for the Big Air three-peat ended when he broke his right collarbone in six places and suffered a concussion during X Games Slopestyle, which took place on the morning of Big Air.
The only skier to try a triple cork on Slopestyle's second jump feature, Harlaut attempted the nose-butter triple 1620 that powered him to Big Air gold in 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately, his nose-butter takeoff was too early. He came up short and rag-dolled down the landing.
"I went back and forth in my head about attempting that trick because the light was flat," Harlaut said. "It's nothing I regret trying, but I haven't attempted it since."
By the time Harlaut, 24, was loaded into the ambulance, the usually good-natured Swede already was smiling and giving the thumbs up. Before he went under the knife in Vail, Colorado, where he had 12 screws and a plate inserted into his shoulder, Harlaut says he remembers watching Vincent Gagnier (the baby brother of 2005 X Games Slopestyle gold medalist Charles Gagnier) win Big Air.
"I was just clear enough in my head at that point to watch," Harlaut said. "I was so happy for Vincent to win. I think our styles are very different but our mindset is similar: We're both trying to do something different from the rest of the field; we just execute our tricks differently. He's awesome. I'm really good friends with him." Harlaut is correct -- he dreams up triples no one else ever has tried, while the Canadian Gagnier won XG Big Air with complicated, unique double rotations.
With ample time off skis following XG, Harlaut, who reinjured his shoulder eight weeks after surgery, didn't start skiing again until late July 2015. He says he had plenty of time to think about innovation. "Hopefully, I can do something new this year," he said. "I want to do something that has my own twist and feeling. Something that has a little bit of me in it. I'd like to do some kind of grab or rotation that's not a triple, something more creative. I have some things in my head."
Harlaut doesn't have to spend much time on skis to learn new tricks; he creates most of them in his head (or on a snowboard in the foam pits at Woodward Camp -- see above). "I love the adrenaline you get from contests and I'm good at handling pressure," he said. "I will usually visualize a trick like 100 times, but sometimes it's more of a risk to throw it in practice, so I wait until the competition. I just think about the trick and know exactly how I want to do it."
Harlaut is a threat for gold in both XG 2016 Big Air and Slopestyle. While most of his accolades come from Big Air, he does have silver from Aspen 2013 Slopestyle. No one has landed two triples in a slopestyle competition, but that was Harlaut's goal in 2015. If he's successful at Aspen 2016, a return to the X Games podium seems likely.